'Free-Range' Parents Under Investigation for Child Neglect Will Appeal CPS Decision

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The Meitiv kids. Photo courtesy of the Meitiv family.

A decision has been made regarding the Maryland parents that were placed under investigation for child neglect in January after allowing their kids, ages 6 and 10, to walk alone to neighborhood playgrounds. But the ruling, by Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS), has not provided any closure on the situation for parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv.

“The Department has found you responsible for UNSUBSTANTIATED child neglect,” Danielle tells Yahoo Parenting regarding the wording of the decision. “It’s Orwellian to me,” she adds. “It’s incomprehensible.” It also signals a closing of the case. Nevertheless, since it was not a clear and outright dismissal, the family intends to appeal the decision.

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Paula Tolson, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, cannot comment directly on the Meitiv case. But she tells Yahoo Parenting in an email that there are three possible findings in such investigations — “ruled out” “unsubstantiated,” and “indicated.” And, as she explains it, “an ‘unsubstantiated’ finding by law means that the agency did not have sufficient evidence to support a finding of either ‘indicated’ or ‘ruled out.’ An unsubstantiated finding typically occurs when the agency has some information supporting a finding of child neglect, or has what appears to be credible reports that are at odds with each other, or does not have sufficient information to reach a more definitive conclusion.”

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The CPS investigation into the Meitivs’ parenting decisions stems from an incident in late December, when Montgomery County Police were alerted by an observer that the kids, Rafi and Dvora, were walking just half a block from home. The police picked them up and delivered them back home; six cop cars soon showed up at the house, spurring Montgomery County Child Protective Services to investigate Danielle and Alexander for child neglect. The incident launched a national media firestorm, which the Meitivs did not shy away from. They explained that they consider themselves “free-range parents,” basing some of their parenting philosophy on the book “Free-Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy.

“My biggest fear is to wonder, how much worse is this going to get?” Danielle says of the CPS ruling. “We have no intention of changing our parenting approach — my kids are playing outside unsupervised right now, as a matter of fact. We do worry, however, what will happen to them and us if CPS gets another call about them.”

When the investigation was first launched, CPS spokesperson Mary Anderson had told Yahoo Parenting that the agency is bound by law to “follow up on every complaint” it receives, and that it uses the Maryland Unattended Children Law for guidance to determine whether a parent “has provided proper care and supervision.” But the law does not address the outdoors, stating that a child under 8 must not be without someone 13 or older while “confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle.”

Basically, CPS believes “children left unattended are at substantial risk of harm,” Meitiv notes regarding her understanding of the situation. “So we still disagree fundamentally on the definition of neglect.” The family has 60 days to appeal the decision.

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